The past year saw St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and its associated health network (St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney includes St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, Sacred Heart Health Service, St Joseph’s Hospital and St Vincent’s Correctional Health Parklea) face some of the greatest challenges in its 163 year history. The impact of COVID-19 has forever changed the way St Vincent’s Sydney works.

With the unprecedented bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020, St Vincent’s Sydney was on constant standby for evacuees needing tertiary level care. The hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) treated many patients for heat and smoke-related issues while members of its mental health team were deployed to bushfire-affected communities on the NSW south coast and operational staff were deployed to field hospitals, the state emergency operations centre, and as volunteers with the State Emergency Service to support communities in recovery efforts.
Our Correctional Health Service at Parklea also helped in relocating inmates who had been evacuated from fire-affected prisons across NSW.
St Vincent’s Sydney’s efforts were later honoured with a NSW Premier Bushfire Emergency Citation.

It wasn’t long after the bushfire threat abated that the risks associated with coronavirus reached Sydney. St Vincent’s implemented its Pandemic Plan shortly before the World Health Organisation officially announced a state of global pandemic. Overseeing the plan’s roll out was St Vincent’s Sydney’s newly-established Emergency Operations Centre which began operating 24/7.
A key component of the Pandemic Plan’s success was the cooperation of the hospital’s Darlinghurst campus partners including the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the St Vincent’s Clinic, and St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney. Success was driven by being able to pool resources, including staff, equipment and physical space together on the one campus. The ED was reconfigured to accommodate ‘red’ and ‘green’ zones, where patients presenting with suspected COVID-19 were quickly isolated and managed in dedicated isolation spaces. Satellite ICU spaces were identified to increase capacity as well as the number of available ventilators, while a second, large liquid oxygen tank was installed.
More than 1,500 staff underwent training and retraining to better understand the virus and how to provide the best care available while keeping themselves and their colleagues safe. Foot traffic to the campus was significantly reduced along with visitor access, and thermal heat screening was introduced for every staff member, patient and guest prior to entry.

Inside ICU

Around the country, our intensive care units and emergency departments are working around the clock to prepare for the COVID-19 peak. For the first time one of Australia’s busiest public hospitals will take our cameras inside their ICU, with Patrick Abboud.

Posted by The Project on Thursday, April 16, 2020

In efforts to contain the virus’ spread, many of St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney’s physical consultations transitioned to online or telephone, otherwise known as ‘telehealth’. Such was the growth in this approach that from January to June 2020, St Vincent’s performed 7,056 occasions of care via telehealth, a significant increase on the 1,853 in 2019.
In parallel, the network expanded telehealth to more than 150 different services and 460 trained clinicians while also establishing a Virtual Care Clinic to safely manage the health needs of COVID-positive patients, with mild symptoms, in their homes.
Early in the pandemic, St Vincent’s was the first site in Australia to offer point-of-care rapid testing for the virus with results available within the hour. More broadly, St Vincent’s was also one of the first hospitals to establish ‘pop up’ COVID clinics with sites at Bondi Beach, Rushcutters Bay and East Sydney, while the hospital’s pathology team tested more than 40,000 members of the community for COVID as of June 2020.
In addition to testing and treatment, St Vincent’s is also at the forefront of COVID-19 research. For example, the hospital is leading ADAPT, one of the world’s foremost studies into why COVID-19 causes severe and life threatening symptoms in some patients while others only experience mild symptoms and recover relatively quickly.

The long road to recovery experienced by some COVID-19 sufferers

It is now clear that for some patients who get through the acute stage of COVID-19, the battle is still far from over. Most will make a full recovery, but for a significant group it is a long and difficult process, with on-going, unpredictable symptoms.

Posted by 7.30 on Thursday, July 16, 2020

But perhaps the greatest achievement for St Vincent’s Sydney during the year was its ability to rise to the enormous challenge created by the pandemic without sacrificing its work and efforts in other important areas.
For example, despite the pandemic’s arrival, the St Vincent’s Heart Lung Transplant team defied global trends and conducted a record number of transplants, with 38 hearts transplanted in just six months.


#EXCLUSIVE: Sydney's heart transplant program is defying the odds coming out of the pandemic stronger than ever, giving more patients a second chance at life. #9News

Posted by 9 News Sydney on Sunday, June 14, 2020

In the area of research, a project exploring pharmacogenomics – led by Dr Kathy Wu and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Clinical Genomics Unit – secured $2.95 million as part of the Commonwealth Government’s $20 million funding for mental health. Pharmacogenomics examines how each person’s specific genetic profile affects their response to therapeutic drugs. The St Vincent’s trial will examine the effectiveness of genotype-guided medication versus standard psychotropic therapy in treating moderate-to-severe depression among 550 adult patients.
At the same time, researchers from St Vincent’s Sydney’s This Way Up program – an online tool to reduce the impact of anxiety and depressive disorders on individuals – and the University of NSW tested three different online treatment programs for clinical depression. The trial showed that combining online mindfulness training with internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy led to significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety, depression, distress, and functional impairment in adults with chronic mental health difficulties.
Meanwhile another research project involved an examination of whether exercise directly after chemotherapy can help kill off cancer cells.

Early research suggests exercise helpful during chemotherapy

We've known about the benefits of exercise for a long time, but now early evidence suggests it could be more helpful - even fighting cancer. Australian scientists are recruiting 20 women with breast cancer, and putting them through daily workouts to see if it slows the growth of tumours. #Exercise #7NEWS

Posted by 7NEWS Sydney on Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The year also saw the completion of significant capital works and the development of major new service offerings.
Partially funded through a $12 million grant from NSW Health and a generous gift from the SIRENS Group, St Vincent’s Hospital’s $17.7 million Psychiatric Alcohol and Non-Prescription Drug Assessment (PANDA) unit opened to cater to the health needs of one of Australia’s most vulnerable patient groups.
Based in St Vincent’s Sydney’s ED, the purpose-built, six-bed PANDA unit provides specialised care for patients who are suffering from drug or alcohol-related psychotic episodes and sits alongside an expanded Psychiatric Emergency Care Clinic, improving the assessment and treatment of patients with mental health and drug and alcohol-related conditions.

We also saw the installation of GenesisCare’s Unity MR-Linac – the first of its kind in NSW and only the second in Australia – to provide a new era of radiation therapy for the hospital’s patients.
MR-Linac technology combines high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging techniques with extremely precise radiation therapy. It’s a promising treatment option for tumours that are located near other major organs where limiting damage to healthy tissue is paramount or in organs that tend to move a lot – for example in the upper abdomen due to breathing.

First patient treated on our Elekta Unity MR-Linac

The day is finally here! Our team at GenesisCare St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney has treated the first patient on our Elekta Unity MR-Linac. The first of its kind in NSW, the second in Australia and the first of 21 MR-Linacs to be rolled out across the GenesisCare network globally. The MR-Linac heralds a new era for radiation therapy and we are excited to be at the forefront of the evolution of cancer treatment. You can head to our website for more information on the MR-Linac: #designingbettercare #innovationeveryday #technologicaladvancements

Posted by GenesisCare on Thursday, June 18, 2020

And launched in June 2020, the hospital’s new Flexiclinic initiative aims to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.
Managed by a Staff Specialist or Senior Registrar at all times, once a patient identifies as First Nations, they are immediately seen by a senior clinician – significantly reducing waiting times – along with an Aboriginal Health Worker.
While the Flexiclinic is still in its infancy, it has resulted in exponential improvements.
When the project began, the percentage of First Nations patients who did not complete treatment at St Vincent’s Sydney was 19.5 per cent. This has now dropped to a staggering 1.6 per cent, making the hospital one of the best performers in the country. The average wait for Flexiclinic patients at St Vincent’s is now just 16 minutes.
Of course, St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney would not have been able to achieve any of the above without the contribution and commitment of its extraordinary workforce.
During the year, several key figures from the hospital were recognised for their expertise and efforts, including A/Prof Philip Cunningham, who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for service to medical research and sexual health medicine; and cardiologist Dr Nicole Bart who was named a 2020 Fulbright Scholar and will spend 10 months at Brigham Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School in the US collaborating with experts in the field of cardiac genetics.

Dr Nicole Bart and A/Prof Philip Cunningham

And finally, in early 2020, St Vincent’s entered its first official float in Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras Parade to honour the 35th anniversary of 17 South, the first HIV ward in Australia and established by the hospital in 1985.